May 19, 2001

The Flip-Side Of Insult

How Cincinnati's Current "Leadership" Makes Hans Christian Anderson's Emperor Look Intellectually Overdressed!

As a native Cincinnatian, with roots in this city going back for several generations, I have some doubt as to whether this should be posted where it may be read by non-Cincinnatians. One should not wash family linen in strange ponds. While others may find this note instructive, that is not why it has been posted.

The sad truth is that much of the potential damage to our city's reputation has already been done: A result of the ignorance and incompetence of a local "leadership" that must be replaced. My purpose is to explain the dynamics of their insult to the committed families of this once honored town.

There are two topics of immediate concern with respect to relations between the Cincinnati Police Division and the City's several large Negro communities, and (as a result of those concerns) between those communities and Cincinnatians of other ancestry. The first concerns the claimed use of a disparaging racial profiling, which it is claimed unfairly targets local Negroes. The second is the claim that the April 7th Police shooting of a Negro teenager resisting arrest, was both unjustified and reflective of a general Police willingness to use excessive (i.e. unjustified) force against Cincinnati Negroes. While the Mayor and others in our Municipal Government have treated these as two aspects of the same problem, the reality is that in their most significant impact they must be considered separately, if either real understanding or constructive progress is to be possible.

Although, in each case the accusation is one of unfair treatment, they differ significantly in the characteristics of the alleged victim. In theory, of course, any Negro could be a victim of unfair profiling. But where it becomes truly onerous, and in fact unfair, is when a law abiding Negro, who has earned respect, is hassled by a Police Officer purely on the basis of his race. What is really involved is not so much profiling as sloppy profiling.

Many police investigations involve a form of profiling. In investigating a crime, everything that is known about the perpetrator goes into a mental matrix from which the profile of a suspect emerges. The race of the perpetrator--or suspected perpetrator--is but one of many possible traits in that matrix. The purpose, obviously, is to narrow the search; and "sloppy" profiling does not do that. A Policeman who cannot observe and evaluate sufficient traits to differentiate between a Negro physician and a Negro drug dealer, or between a Negro business executive and a Negro burglar, should probably reconsider his occupation.

This Ohioan has had many friends in the Cincinnati Police Division, through the decades that he has been both practicing Law and speaking out for the beliefs and values of Conservative Ohioans. Based upon many conversations with individual Policemen, numerous Criminal cases that have involved interaction between Negro clients and Cincinnati Police Officers, and the anecdotal evidence obtained from others in parallel circumstances, it is my confirmed belief that the great bulk of Cincinnati Police Officers do not seek to unfairly stigmatize any element of the population. On the other hand, many individual Negroes have been hassled by individual Cincinnati Police Officers in situations that certainly appeared to be unfair.

Those situations create a compounding problem. They create the semblance of a common interest between very diverse members of the local Negro communities, where otherwise there would be no common interest. That apparent common interest is adverse to necessary Police and community cooperation; adverse to a clear recognition of the real common interest between law-abiding Negroes and law-abiding Caucasians in achieving a maximum suppression of criminal conduct.

The debate over the appropriate level of force in effecting a difficult arrest only seems to be closely related to this sloppy profiling because of a lack of candor among the participants on all sides. This general lack of candor is particularly egregious when aggravated by the tendency of elected officials to verbally flutter off into whatever direction they perceive the strongest wind of the moment to be blowing. Because the City has recently been challenged in Court by a suit alleging extensive racial profiling, and has just agreed to mediation in connection with that suit, both subjects do need to be addressed. However, they need to be clearly distinguished in order to achieve a proper definition of common interest.

There is a third topic that hovers in the background of any discussion of race and law enforcement. That is the question of neighborhood treatment. And here the nature of the problem is not one that pits the Police Division against anyone. Indeed, when Cincinnati first adopted a plan to bulldoze much of the Old West End--then Cincinnati's largest Negro community--in the name of "Urban Renewal" forty or so years ago, it was our then celebrated Chief of Police, Stanley R. Schrotel, who warned that the plan would prove a disaster for local law enforcement.

Schrotel was widely recognized in the late 1950s and early '60s as America's most respected Policeman, and was Chairman of the Advisory Committee On Uniform Crime Records to the FBI. He explained that the Beat Cops in the West End knew who was who in the neighborhood; that when a crime occurred, they had a good idea of who was involved and where to go to find a solution; that if the neighborhood was torn down, the inhabitants would scatter to other neighborhoods, where the bad apples would not be so easily found and identified; that, in effect, urban renewal in the West End was going to prove urban disintegration for many of the older areas of the City.

The City's "Liberals," did not listen then, and the results proved exactly as the Chief had predicted. Then as now, there was a strange dichotomy: They talked "Liberal"--i.e. Socialist, "do gooder"-- values, as though tearing down a neighborhood where people lived was actually a benefit to those who lived there; while their actions tended to enrich private developers, often not even from the City, who acquired land purchased by the taxpayers for far less than its intrinsic value. And as other neighborhoods declined, in the predictable fallout from this social upheaval, the process was repeated albeit less dramatically.

The relevance of this in the present dilemma is that the underlying attitude that it reflects has created an atmosphere of legitimate cynicism in many neighborhoods, both Negro and Caucasian, where it is generally accepted that the interests of the inhabitants will never be given so high a priority or be treated as sympathetically, even in their own neighborhood, as the interests of business groups or institutions with the ear of City Hall. This, coupled with reports of an unfair "hassling" of the law-abiding, tends to reduce the level of citizen/Police cooperation, essential to effective law enforcement. Those whose interest is in more, not less, Police activity in their neighborhood; who would want the Police to crack down on youthful misconduct in their midst, are rendered mute because of a general aura of antagonism and hostility, born of mistrust, that serves the interest of no one but a criminal element.

This cuts sharply in two directions: To the extent that it appears to give more support to the rant of agitators who thrive in the perception of racial hostility, it causes a increasing reluctance upon the part of Police Officers to put themselves at risk to protect the residents of a predominantly Negro community. While this reluctance does not ordinarily rise to the level of an outright refusal to serve, it seriously undermines the morale of the individual Officer assigned to such neighborhoods. In this, the real victims are the law-abiding Negroes in that community.

In the other direction, and also as a complement of that first effect, it creates a climate of hostility within the Negro community to those members of that still law-abiding majority, who actively seek more, rather than less, Police involvement in their neighborhoods.

As this reciprocal negativity gathers momentum, the need for a greater Police presence in those same Negro neighborhoods becomes all the more obvious. A good example of this may be seen in the sudden and dramatic surge in Negro vs. Negro violence, that has taken place in the very area most affected, since the subsidence of the April riots.

Since very serious charges have now been filed against the Officer involved in the April 7th shooting, it would be improper for me, as a lawyer, to write anything here that might in anyway prejudice the coming trial on the merits of those charges. Yet without discussing the specifics, it is not difficult to pen the type of statement that Mayor Luken should have made at the first sign that there was going to be a public hue and cry:

There are those who would make a political issue out of an unfortunate death--to politicalize the understandable sorrow of the family and loved ones of the decedent. Let the position of your City Government be clear. While our hearts go out to the dead man's family, there can be no toleration for those who would use this personal tragedy to undermine the public order.

We will investigate whether the shooting involved an improper or excessive use of force, dealing thoroughly and fairly with both the Officer and the community, as provided by law. While that investigation goes forward, no one will be permitted to prejudice due process by summoning a lynch mob into the streets or public areas of this City. Unless and until such investigation shows otherwise, the Police Officer or Officers involved, are entitled to the same presumption of innocence--the same presumption that they acted properly--as any other citizen. Indeed, we cannot ask men and women to serve in our Police Department, our first line of defense, and not give them full moral support until such time as they have been shown to have acted in a manner that removes that presumption. The reasonable assumption is that an Officer, effecting an arrest, must use whatever force is required and that, in the heat of the moment, it is not always possible to steer the fine line that we might wish.

There is ongoing controversy, now in mediation, over Police profiling of suspects in crimes under investigation, as well as allegations of unfair treatment for certain neighborhoods by the City. These are questions of public policy and fair subjects for public debate. I shall encourage a full, frank and reasoned public discussion of these subjects at all times when pertinent questions are raised. Whether an individual Officer has himself broken the law, however, is basically no different than the question as to whether any citizen has broken the law. It must be determined with respect for the due process that governs a just administration of law. It cannot be determined by an appeal to passions in the street, or by counting noses of those whose opinions are formed by processes other than those which the law provides for determining guilt and innocence.

In place of such a to the point statement of relevant fact, the Mayor first issued a statement that sounded as though he had already judged the Officer. I do not have it before me, but it put the City Government on the defensive, when the matter was only in the first stages of investigation. Closely on the heels of that statement, on the evening of Monday, April 9th, the City granted a public hearing in the City Council Chambers on the subject of the shooting--still in the early stages of investigation--for a group which wanted to stir up as much anger as possible. When, as expected, the crowd became unruly and began to actually threaten the representatives of the City, the brainless wonders in our Government did not call in the Police, but abandoned the Council Chambers to the anger mongers. On the way out, the unruly protestors, whipping themselves up into a true mob in the evident power vacuum, performed acts of vandalism, for which they will apparently go unpunished.

Unless one would seriously suggest that we substitute a system of angry demonstrations for orderly law enforcement, the pusillanimous appeasement of demagoguery in this instance can not be justified. That it led to riots on the following three nights but punctuates what was already inexcusable.

By April 13th--Good Friday--the Mayor and his cohorts had toughened up a bit, and imposed a citywide Curfew, beginning at 8:00 P.M., for each of the next three nights. This broke up the riots, which had been limited largely to one or two neighborhoods; but it spoiled the Easter Weekend for all Cincinnatians. At the same time, the Mayor attended the funeral of the slain youth with other notables including the Reverend Al Sharpton; telegraphing a combination of crass and cynical politics with a suggestion of martyrdom in running from Police Officers entitled to arrest you. Did the Mayor know the deceased or the grieving family? Did he claim that his presence would assuage their personal sorrow, or was he trying to make a statement for a broader constituency? Did he believe that the Reverend Al Sharpton had come down here to improve Community Relations? One thing he probably did not intend was to infuriate Cincinnati's fine corps of Police Officers, who noted that the Mayor had not shown a similar interest in some of the Officers who have been shot in the line of duty.

Since then, the City has created a new Commission to investigate ways to prevent a recurrence of problems between the Police and Cincinnati's "African American" community, and turned over the leadership of that Commission to one of the angry participants in the City Hall ruckus on April 9th; a "Reverend," who like New York's Al Sharpton, seems more interested in harassing the Police than saving souls.

Nowhere in the City response, to date, is there any demonstration of clear priorities. While Cincinnati still boasts the retired Police Chief, who was America's most respected Police Officer in the '50s and early '60s, no one in City Hall even bothered to call him for his ideas on how to deal with the current problem! Everything they have done has been defensively reactive to those who appear to have an agenda for less aggressive law enforcement. It may be only a coincidence, rather than the face of things to come; but it is surely consistent with the lack of real understanding of social dynamics being demonstrated in City Hall, since April 7th, that the very neighborhood most affected by the riots has seen a succession of Negro shootings of other Negroes in the wake of that confusing response. If the pattern continues, it will become increasingly clear that the blame lies with Mayor Luken and a City Council, without an iota of sense or leadership.

What is lacking in the City response is any perception of the fact that most of Cincinnati's employed Negro population identified not with the rioters, but with the Police; that most Negro neighborhoods were quiet, and some even had demonstrations of support for the Police; that a Curfew should be limited in its applicability to those areas where it is needed; that punishing the residents, Caucasian or Negro, in neighborhoods where there were no riots, only served to undermine respect for the very law enforcement that was at issue. What is also lacking is any real empathy for the suspicion that many Cincinnati Negroes do have of Police intentions, partly as a result of unfortunate mistakes by individual Policemen, but magnified many times over by the almost compulsive need of "Liberal" politicians to "profile" the interests of the Negro worker with the Negro Welfare recipient--as different as those interests are;--the Negro professional or business man, with the Negro agitator, etc.; all lumped together under a trendy but insulting umbrella as African Americans.

Do those managing City Hall even understand that for every Rev. Al Sharpton, or his local equivalent, there are many Negro Ministers who are not out agitating situations, but actually tending to their flocks, encouraging Godly family values and personal responsibility? Do they understand that the issue, when a Negro professional man, driving a Lexus paid for by his personal efforts, is hassled as a suspected drug dealer by an inexperienced Policeman, is quite different from that when a youth, resisting a lawful arrest, takes the Police on a merry chase?

Nor do the "Liberal" politicians show much empathy for the plight of the residents of any community--White, Black or whatever--which they are trying to "bless" with "urban renewal," when those residents are uprooted or reduced in status in their own neighborhoods, in order to cater to developers or institutions. Are our poseurs in City Hall even aware how those situations can alienate residents from support for the infrastructure of Government?

A "leadership," which can only react to the hate filled cries of agitators, or to the solicitation of special interests, but cannot see the real needs of those quietly going about their business and keeping the wheels of Society turning, is no leadership at all. It insults the Negro worker, businessman or professional, by lumping him with the Negro criminal or welfare recipient. It insults all of us, Caucasian or Negro, by seeking to appease rather than protect; by seeking to cover up, rather than to face; by seeking to enforce an equality of inconvenience, rather than an umbrella of safety. It insults the God fearing by giving greater attention to the political clerics than those tending their flocks. It insults every rooted Cincinnatian, by seeking guidance from outside the city on how to deal with the social dynamics of our own people.

The flip side of insult then is a callous indifference that feigns concern, appoints commissions, committees and focus groups, ad nauseum; a "Liberal"leadership that mouths slogans, uses the latest trendy terminology, while attending funerals with the notorious anti-Police "Reverend" Al Sharpton, where neither it nor he has any place; but cannot be bothered to develop any real understanding or empathy for the concerns of those who try to raise children in family settings, with religious values and a sense of constructive purpose. The flip side of insult is an abdication of responsibility that puts us all at greater risk, while showing the world how little it knows of any one of us. The flip side of insult is an ignorance born of indifference; and this City can no longer tolerate it or the false leadership that wallows in it.

--William Flax, Cincinnati, Ohio--May 19, 2001

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